Thursday, March 31, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Spring slow to arrive

I'd like to show a picture that has drastically changed from last week but I can't. Nothing's really changed since last week. The cold temps have slowed the melting of the snow so not much hasn't changed around the farm. I did drive down to the compost area yesterday and found out where the turkeys have been all winter. They've been hanging around the compost piles, picking squash parts and seed out of the raw materials pile. What a great way to spend the winter!

Little signs of spring are around this week: Woodchucks, a few are out; sap is still running strong; lots of ducks in the patches of open water; and lots and lots of frost heaves. Our ducks are laying eggs and everyone in the henhouse is broody. It's time to think about spring chicks and ordering seed for the garden. Yes, I know I said no garden again this year, but I've just got to have a few things. New potatoes for one and summer squash for another I can't wait to get them both on the grill. Add some sweet onions, green beans and our usual planting of Brussels sprouts and you have our garden in a nutshell.

Of course we must add space for the gladiolas, storage onions, a few cucumbers, beets and fall carrots. Hmmm, it's getting bigger. That's OK. I'll just plant enough for the two of us and what we need to put in the freezer and call it good. Right. I'll put some extra summer squash and zucchini in for the hens, radishes in for me and peppers and tomatoes for Peggy. That's it. And maybe a few more blueberries.

An April Fool's Day snow storm is looming as I write this. Yippee. We haven't had much precipitation lately so it's not totally unexpected. Unwanted perhaps but not unexpected. I've seen a few people out raking their lawns -- something I actually enjoy doing. It's kind of a spring ritual.

Some years back we planted a hedge of Rosa rugosa roses here at the farm, and I liked them so much we planted them at home too. Our house is right on the road and the hedge blocks some of the noise, and keeps the critters from getting into the road too often. The rose bushes took a beating this year with all the snow being plowed on top of them so I think I'll trim them back and give them a shot of compost this year. They seem to thrive on the abuse the snow plow gives them and they don't mind the road salt so they do well in this application. They do tend to spread; so what we don't dig up and transplant somewhere else we simply mow with the lawn mower.

Planting in the greenhouse continues with micromixes and more tomatoes this week and peppers next week. Lots of peppers -- peppers for breeding, trials, seed production and growouts.

What's a grow out? A grow out is a quality check of seed we had produced off the farm. We "grow out" a certain number of plants and make certain these plants are what they should be before we sell them. A grow out usually consists of at least 150 plants so we get a good feel for how the crop looks and performs.

We have lots of crops this year so it looks like all our field will be full this year. Next year we'll add another field for our crops so that will help ease the land crunch. Adding 16 acres will allow us to plant some cover crops and do some rock picking and other projects I'd really like to see getting done. That's hard to do when every field is planted.

Until next week, Brian.

P.S. From last week, Peg corrected me that's not Pearl, that's Wilma.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Quick Hoop™ issues at Living Land Farm

On Thursday of last week, I went with Chris Hillier, our commercial sales rep for Maine, to visit one of her customers, Mark Allen at Living Land Farm in Winterport, Maine. Mark runs a commercial operation and CSA on just 1.75 acres with 3/4 of an acre in production.

I had spoken with Mark at the MOFGA Spring Growth Conference last Saturday and he told me that he had structural failure in his Quick Hoops™. This was the first actual failure I had heard of, so I wanted to investigate what went wrong.  Eliot Coleman's concept for the Quick Hoops™ Bender a few years ago was born out of the need for hoops that wouldn't bend under snow load like PVC hoops do. In our trials at the farm last winter, the 1/2" EMT hoops held up extremely well, but when the soil moistened up in spring, the hoops tended to lean and cut through the soil without bending.

This was the case at Mark Allen's farm, only worse. Due to the very wet conditions caused by drainage challenges at his farm, the hoops under snow load leaned over, then started to widen out as the bottoms of the hoops poked through the soil. Now much wider and with greatly reduced strength, the hoops then caved in. Also, once one hoop moved, the entire length of plastic was now loose and able to catch much more snow. The result was a domino effect. Mark had tied off some of his end wall hoops to the end stake, but since the hoop ends cut through soil, they were of little help.

Mark stated that he intends to do some work to aid in soil drainage. My recommendation for him for next season is to run a rope purlin the entire length of his tunnels, tying off to each hoop individually and to stakes on either end. I also suggested he use beefier stakes like T-posts driven deeply, as they will need to bear the weight of the entire tunnel's snow load. Hopefully, this will work for him.

After analyzing his low tunnels, he gave us a tour. Eliot Coleman's influence can be seen in many of the methods employed on his farm, including soil blocking, wire wickets, and the use of Quick Hoops™.

You can view the complete gallery here. Click on the first photo that comes up and it will zoom in with a black background and show comments beneath.

Adam Lemieux
Tools & Supplies Manager

Monday, March 28, 2011

Winter Caterpillar Tunnel Structural Trial

Goal: To see if either caterpillar tunnel version (with, or without purlins) could withstand winter snowload.

Results: Very interesting. We picked two of the four tunnels that were built in May, 2010, actually planted onions in them, and buttoned them up for the winter. Both tunnels were structurally the same, with a center ridge-pole made of chain link fence top-rail, but one of them also had purlins about three feet from either side of the ridge. These purlins in summer, were used to trellis vine crops, and carried that load quite well. They really stiffened up the whole structure. However, in summer, they tended to cause the plastic to collect rainwater. This made me think that the purlins would either make it so strong that it would better carry the snow load or they would catch more snow than the tunnel without purlins and cause a collapse. It looks like the latter is the case.

Summary and recommendations: It is important to note that we intentionally did not remove snow in this trial, as we were looking for structural failure in worst case conditions. Removal of snow, even just next to the tunnel that failed, probably would have prevented its failure. Doing so would have greatly reduced the pressure bearing in on the sides (and therefore the plastic's weight felt on the top). If you intend to use a structure like this to overwinter crops in northern climates where snowfall is a concern, I would recommend a maximum of four foot bow spacing during construction, not using side purlins in winter tunnels because they catch snow, and of course the removal of snow whenever possible from the sides and top of the tunnel. It would also be prudent to shore up the bows internally with notched two-by-fours placed vertically under every other bow as a means of additional snowload insurance and peace of mind.

You can view the complete gallery of this trial below.

The 26-page illustrated manual for the bender used to make these tunnels and an MS Excel cost calculator spreadsheet may be downloaded on the Quick Hoops™ High Tunnel Bender's product page here.

Adam Lemieux
Johnny's Tools & Supplies Manager

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New York Times delves into heirloom seeds

Rob Johnston Jr. --- New York Times photo

An interesting story -- "In the Garden: Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids?" --  ran in today's New York Times.

The story, written by Times gardening columnist Michael Tortorello, compares heirloom seeds with hybrids. Johnny's Chairman and Founder, Rob Johnston Jr., is quoted in the article. The story helps explain why heirlooms have become increasingly popular among gardeners. But the heirloom boom has its detractors, Tortorello writes. The story details the strengths that many hybrids have over heirlooms, such as superior disease resistance and more consistent yields.

At Johnny's, we trial dozens of heirlooms each growing season and select the best tasting varieties for our product line. We carry 55 varieties of vegetable heirlooms, including 20 different heirloom tomatoes. We also have 22 heirloom flowers available.

High Tunnel Twilight Meeting at University of Rhode Island

High Tunnel Twilight Meeting at URI
  • Date: April 12, 2011, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Location: University of Rhode Island Agronomy Farm, Plains Road, Kingston, RI
  • Description: This event is part of a three-year USDA/Northeast SARE Research & Education Project entitled Cover Cropping Strategies for Year-Round Weed Control on Mixed Vegetable Farms in Southern New England led by University of Rhode Island professor Rebecca Brown. Featured speakers Mike Orzolek and Bill Lamont, both of Pennsylvania State University, will discuss specialty crops that can be grown in high tunnels, high tunnel structures, crop rotation and crop management. Pesticide credits have been applied for.

Cost of $20/person includes dinner. Pre-registration by April 7th recommended to ensure meal availability.
Contact Person: Kristen Castrataro
Phone: 401-874-2967
Visit the event website for more information.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Spring snowfall

It's beginning to look a lot like spring even with the snow we received on Monday and Tuesday this week. One nice thing about snow this late in the season is we know it won't last long.

Signs of spring are showing up in lots of places now. I've seen lots of ducks and a few turkey vultures. The sap is running strong and the ice on the lakes looks thinner by the day. The snow has dropped about four feet outside my office window so I can see the Main Trial field and the crops we left there last fall. The snow that was threatening the greenhouses of two weeks ago is but a memory now. Fine by me.

The ducks are well into breeding season now and are anxiously awaiting the ice out of the pond. This is the second full year for many of them and they are laying eggs all around -- under the henhouse, in the garage, and other "hidden" spots we'll find throughout the spring. Hopefully we'll find them before any critters do, like foxes and minks, both of which are plentiful around here.
Pearl and Franklin enjoying a sunny day.

Here at the farm we're gearing up for another busy season. The greens in the poly tunnel seem to have over wintered fine and are growing slowly now. They speed up once we get some sunny weather. Each time I look at them they have grown.

The positions we had open on the Farm Crew for the season are filling up fast. We should finish interviewing and hiring this week. We have lots of exciting projects to do this year and I'm looking forward to getting out of the office and back into the field. Some projects -- trials to be exact -- are new. They include row cover trials, plastic and paper mulches, insect netting, potting mixes and fertilizers and different colored plastic mulches.

Other projects: We have an irrigation pond to design and dig, a new driveway to put in, and lots of drain tile to install.

We have an 18-acre field we are anxious to put into production and with this infrastructure we'll be able to – hopefully for the 2012 growing season. I'm anxious to get crops planted over there – it's perfect soil for carrots and other root crops – I think there's one rock in the whole field and that came in on some compost.

While I was out taking pictures this week here's one of the farm.

It looks kind of bleak as we had just received snow and we're expecting more. Soon this will only be a fading memory:

And what's growing in the greenhouse? Tomatoes of course!
Until next week – looking forward to spring.

Monday, March 21, 2011

NPR story highlights winter greens, season extension

There was an interesting story this morning on National Public Radio about growing Asian greens, arugula, and kale year round. The story highlighted a farmer -- Zach Lester of Tree and Leaf Farm in Unionville, Virginia. Lester, a Johnny's customer, uses winter farming methods such as protected cropping with high and low tunnels to extend the growing season. These methods allow him to harvest fresh greens year round at his farm, located just 80 miles from Washington, DC.

NPR photo by Maggie Starbard

 At Johnny's, we found this story interesting because we've been helping growers with season extension for many years. We offer tools and supplies for building high and low tunnels to help you extend your growing season easily and economically. We also carry a large selection of cold tolerant seed varieties and varieties that are good for growing in low tunnels.

You can find plenty of information on our website about season extension techniques.

You can hear the story and read about Lester's farm  -- "Old-Time Methods Yield Spring Greens All Winter" -- on NPR's website.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Economic Outlook for Culinary Herbs

For a time in the 1990s, culinary herbs seemed to offer unlimited potential for local growers. There was an ever-increasing demand for fresh and dried herbs by consumers and restaurants. Fresh herbs commanded a higher price per pound than any other edible crop. Herb farming actually looked like a get-rich-quick scheme.

But, as with so many trends, the entrance of a few large-scale growers glutted the wholesale market. Internet ordering and next-day delivery services gave chefs access to a huge selection of fresh herbs from distant farms. The herb farming bubble popped.

That's not to say that culinary herbs can't be profitable. For many vegetable growers, they are still a top-grossing crop. But the most successful approach to herbs today is to consider them a valuable addition to a vegetable farm, rather than trying to make herbs the only crop.

Culinary herbs are a natural add-on that helps sell other veggies and raise the average purchase amount. Tomatoes cry out for basil, potatoes for dill, and winter squash for rosemary and thyme. By providing recipes, savvy growers are able to cross-sell many kinds of herbs. Growers who have existing relationships with chefs can explore the possibility of custom growing herbs for specific seasonal menus. Some growers do a good business selling potted herbs to restaurants for use in the kitchen or on tables. Supermarkets interesting in developing local food credibility may be open to selling herb bunches in water.

Herbs still have great potential for the mixed vegetable grower, but it's smart to study the market and look for niches before planting on a large scale. For a detailed discussion of the current state of culinary herb production in the U.S., see this report from ATTRA, the national sustainable agriculture information service.

Article by Lynn Byczynski of Growing for Market. Read more of Lynn's articles on vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit, tools, cover crops, and sustainable agriculture in Catalog Extras at

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Greenhouse preparation

Johnny's Farm Manager Brian Milliken is on vacation. This week's guest columnist is Becky Traylor.

The lion of March has made its appearance. Sunday night we received about 2 inches of rain in temperatures just a hair below freezing, giving all the trees and bushes an icy halo. I do have to admit that even though I am ready for green grass, plowed fields and scarf-less days, I truly love the way trees look when they are covered in ice. Unfortunately, when you mix top heavy, ice covered trees and soft, water saturated soil a lot of trees end up coming down.

It’s days like today - when you can look out the window and actually watch the snow melt - that I really get the spring itch. Luckily, next week we’ll be firing up the first greenhouse of the season and starting the early seeding of grafting tomatoes. It always amazes me that it only takes a handful of seedlings to really get the ball rolling.

The greenhouse coordinator has only been back for a week, but she has already thoroughly cleaned and inspected greenhouse #3 so that it will be ready to go when we have seeds in hand. She has also been looking into ways of making the greenhouses more efficient. Efficiency in a greenhouse can start as easily as reorganizing the space or be as complex as automated, zone heating and watering. This year we are looking at better ways to water and fertilize our seedlings.

Watering here has always been done by hand, twice a day. Though hand watering is time consuming, it allows time to visually inspect the plants while watering. This way plants are constantly monitored and any issue can be handled quickly.

Flood benches are one option for automated watering that requires little daily time consumption. A flood bench is essentially a waterproof table with a water inlet and drain. This type of table is setup on a timer to allow a predetermined amount of water to flood the bench top, soak into the flats, and then drain out. Another option is overhead sprinklers or misters. Once the water line is set up, this system can be controlled by a timer and provides consistent watering. Automated overhead misting should only be used in greenhouses with excellent air circulation as excess humidity can provide favorable conditions for fungi and bacteria. Because automated watering reduces the amount of time spent with individual plants, it is very important to have a routine monitoring schedule. A monitoring routine should include inspections for disease and pest issues, nutrient deficiencies, and watering system malfunctions.

To help reduce nutrient deficiencies, we incorporate the use of fish fertilizers into our watering schedule. Fish fertilizers normally have nutrient levels that are mild and won’t injure tender seedlings but they are pretty heavy solutions that can have a hard time going through fertilizer injectors. Fertilizer injectors eliminate the need to mix fertilizer by the gallon, making the task of fertilizing more efficient.

Injectors work well with conventional soluble fertilizers like Miracle Grow or Peter’s but tend to be inconsistent with organic fish based fertilizers like Neptune’s Harvest. One of the reasons that fish fertilizer can be inefficient in an injector is that the heavy solution tends to settle, floating the oils to the top and dropping the solids to the bottom. In order to get the true nutrient levels from this emulsion, it must be stirred or agitated regularly. Another reason that fish can be troublesome for an injector is that it leaves an oily residue on the tubing and moving parts of the mechanism. Over time, this residue becomes sticky and can clog the lines and inhibit the movement of mechanical parts. Since most organic fertilizers are fish or seaweed based, it can be hard to find a solution that works with dilution systems.

In the up coming weeks we’ll be testing a handful of organic soluble fertilizers as well as starting our first seedlings of the season, ordering last minute supplies, finishing up our season’s planning and I’m sure that we’ll have to move some more snow. In the meantime, I for one will be hoping for 35 degree sunny days with a nice drying breeze.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New: Johnny's Exclusive Tomato Plants

We have some exciting news to share. Tomato plants are now available from Johnny's via our new tomato plant pilot program.

These are robust, well-rooted plants grown in easy-to-tranplant, environmentally-friendly paper Ellepots from Johnny's exclusive varieties.

Our selection includes two Johnny's-bred varieties and a grafted variety delivered at the right time to plant in your growing zone. The plants, including Ellepots, are 9" to 10" tall.

Tomato Plants Product Line

Defiant PhR

Bred by Johnny's. A mid-size slicer with high resistance to late blight and intermediate resistance to early blight. Determinate.

Five Star Grape

Bred by Johnny's. Our best tasting grape tomato. Healthy plant bears high yields of bright red, crack-resistant fruit. Indeterminate.

The best of both worlds. This grafted tomato plant combines Geronimo's flavor, greenhouse reliability, and yield with Maxifort's disease resistance and vigor. Indeterminate.

Tomato Plant Collection

A great combo to get you started. Johnny's tomato plant collection consists of 3 Defiant PhR plants and 3 Five Star plants.

Note: Johnny's has selected the following states for participation in our new tomato plant pilot program: CT, IL, IN, ME, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WI.

Your State Not Included? Please take our survey and tell us what you're interested in.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Photos: A Visit to Laughing Stock Farm

Laughing Stock Farm, in Freeport, Maine, is one of the few winter CSA's in Maine that includes fresh greens throughout the season. Laughing Stock Farm is a four season certified organic, family owned vegetable farm that also supplies over a dozen fine area restaurants and a couple of specialty retailers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

March Product Spotlight: Quick Hoops™ High Tunnels Bender

Build high tunnels easily and economically

Quick Hoops™ Bender
Protect your crops spring through fall at very little expense. Make your own walk-in "caterpillar" style high tunnel with the Quick Hoops™ High Tunnel bender. You purchase 1⅜" chain-link fence top rail from a local store, and bend it with our bender to create hoops. Your tunnel will be 12' wide and 7' tall. The bender can be mounted to any solid horizontal surface such as a picnic table, workshop bench, or hay wagon. Included with the bender are instructions for building a caterpillar tunnel. Johnny's also carries Tufflite IV™ Greenhouse Film in compatible sizes, a Cross-Connector for connecting the ridge pole or purlins to the hoops, and a Ground Post Driver for securing the ground posts.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What's New at the Farm? It's March

Welcome to March!

At least that’s what the calendar says, and yes it’s true, the spring season is creeping up on us. It’ll be here in no time, and not a minute too soon either. Being a person who likes to grow things, it’s the best time of year, or at least one of the best times of the year. They’re all pretty good except for the one we’re trying to get done with.

The farm is starting to get busier with each passing day. We started planting yesterday and will start many things this month. We’re getting our trials in order so we’ll know what we’re going to plant where. Materials are arriving daily now to help us grow the best seedlings and the best crops we can. An exciting new tool we have purchased is a moisture meter along with moisture sensors to determine when to irrigate our crops. This will give us a better sense of exactly what the moisture content is in varying depths in our crops. The deep-rooted crops have less of a time with water stress as do the shallower rooted crops. Hopefully this will help us grow better crops.

Proper water management can often determine whether a crop will thrive, survive or die. Knowing the water demands for the crops is a useful tool in determining how and when to irrigate. Here at the farm we use drip irrigation on most growing crops but use overhead on some small seeded, just planted crops like onions and carrots. There are pros and cons to each watering system and I will try to outline just a few here.

Overhead irrigation pros:
• Helps small seeded crops like lettuce, carrots, onions and greens grow up through crusted soil
• Helps shallow rooted crops rehydrate, like lettuce and cabbage on warm windy days right after transplanting
• Can help stave off frost damage
• Best choice for seed broadcast like lawns and cover crops, can help set seed depth when underseeding

• Wastes water; not an efficient use of water at all
• May help spread diseases
• Equipment may be expensive and of high maintenance
• Water in sufficient quality and pressure may be an issue
• Leaks may waste large amounts of water over a short amount of time

Drip irrigation Pros:
• Extremely efficient, waters root zone only, water seeps in and doesn’t evaporate quickly
• Reduced weed growth – areas between rows not watered
• Can be set up on timers for automatic watering
• Inexpensive and easy to set up and maintain
• Fertilizer can be directly injected into water lines

Drip irrigation Cons:
• T tape makes weed control and cultivation more difficult must be held down so it won’t blow away
• Water needs filtering
• High Maintenance – system needs monitoring, tape clogs, pressure fluctuations
• Can’t see drip working so moisture meters are a valuable tool
• May need irrigation design research to develop ideal system

Of course there’s a lot of information out there and everyone has an opinion of what the ideal system is. My stance is quite middle of the road – each system has its advantages and drawbacks. Here at Johnny’s farm we use both systems, on both large and small scales, with successes and failures. I guess the point I’m trying to make is do some research to find out what best works for your own situation.

Next week, I’m on vacation – time to get some things done before the busy spring season starts. I’ll look for a volunteer to write next week’s column.


JSS Advantage -- March 2011

The benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables are well-established by research and certainly well publicized. Yet Americans have been slow to adopt the advice to eat five servings of produce a day. In fact, the percentage of people who eat that much didn't change a bit from 2000 to 2009 despite all the good publicity for produce, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control. So when the federal government announced new healthy eating guidelines last month, it got more forceful in its recommendation: "Make half your plate fruits and vegetables."
Will these new government dietary guidelines get people to buy and eat more fresh produce? We hope so, especially if it means more income for local growers! In this issue of JSS Advantage, we'll present several ways you can help encourage people to buy and eat more produce.

Concentrate on Current Food Trends

One of the most beneficial long-term food trends in recent memory has been the gradual expansion of the types of vegetables people eat. Items that were once very minor crops have grown to be important for some farms. (Think arugula and basil.) Some that were once big sellers (for example, full-size lettuce) have lost market share to trendy newcomers (salad mix). It all depends on your market. A high-income, urban or suburban customer base is likely to buy produce items they've seen featured in magazines or on restaurant menus. A growing ethnic population may increase the demand for international varieties. In other markets, basic items and value are the best sellers. Overall, here are some of the produce items we see increasing in popularity:
turnipsWinter squash and pumpkins. Butternut squash is frequently used in soups, risotto, and pasta dishes. Smaller winter squashes are used as single-serving baked vegetables. USDA statistics lump ornamental, processing, and table pumpkins into one category. Production jumped 20% in 2004 and has been edging upward since then. USDA does not track winter squash separately from summer squash.
Sweet potatoes. Used everywhere from gourmet restaurants to burger bars, sweet potatoes are winning fans for their high nutritional content as well as their flavor. Sweet potato fries are becoming as common as French fries, even in the frozen food section of supermarkets.
Root crops. Beets, celeriac, turnips, and parsnips are no longer just soup ingredients; these earthy crops are found on the most upscale menus.
Fresh spinach. Four times more is sold today than in 1980. Much of the increase is due to the convenience of pre-washed baby spinach.

Sell Directly to Restaurants and Chefs

herbs choppingThanks to the popularity of local food, many restaurants are eager to buy directly from farmers. That's been true with high-end restaurants for many years, but now all kinds of restaurants want to brag about their local food connections. Here's some advice about selling to chefs.
In restaurants with static menus, you may be able to suggest places where your produce could substitute for the wholesaler's. Be aware, though, that some items are used in such large volume that the restaurant needs to buy from the cheapest source to contain costs. If you don't want to be the cheapest source, you might try to supply a lower-volume specialty item.
Restaurants with seasonal menus are a better choice for many growers because those chefs can find a good use for just about anything you grow. The more creative the chef, the more likely he or she is to buy local.
If possible, meet with the chef before you plant to determine varieties and quantities. Take your Johnny's catalog along to show the possibilities. Most chefs won't commit to buying a specific item, but will provide guidance that will help you determine if you want to grow something special.
Price your food fairly from the start. Base your prices on your costs of production and on market prices. Don't offer it too cheaply in the hope you can raise prices later; it's always hard to raise prices, but easy to lower them.
Ask for what you think your produce is worth, which may be significantly higher than the wholesaler. Point out the advantages of buying from you, such as longer shelf life and less waste, so the chef can justify paying more.
Work out a payment agreement in advance. Some restaurants write you a check when you deliver, and others pay 30 days later. Ask what the arrangement will be and, if it's acceptable to you, write it on every invoice.
Expect to be part of the restaurant's marketing efforts. You may be asked to provide photos, a copy of your logo, and information about your farm. So be prepared with your best marketing materials, because you may end up being featured prominently.

Grow Mini-head Lettuce

mini headsSmall heads of lettuce are increasingly popular with chefs, high-end supermarkets, and urban farmer's markets. They are tender and flavorful with no bitterness. They are much easier to harvest and pack than salad mix, and they have a long shelf life when properly refrigerated.
Mini-heads are grown on close spacing, about 6" apart, and harvested at 5-7" across. By growing several colors and types, growers can create attractive "confetti" boxes for chefs, who can use them to make their own signature salads.
At the farmer's market, some growers offer two heads, a red and a green, in a bag, making the perfect portion for one or two people. Some growers pull the heads and leave the roots intact, washed and trimmed.
Excellent choices for mini-head lettuce include: Dancine, Winter Density, Breen, Focea, Australe, Barbados, Concept, Rhazes, Magenta, and Cherokee. See all of Johnny's recommended mini-head varieties.

Offer Up-and-coming Culinary Herbs

culinary herbsAs consumers develop more adventurous palates, they are more likely to try new culinary herbs as well as new vegetables. The basic herbs, which continue to be popular, are basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Here are some of the lesser-known herbs that are gaining new fans among chefs and home cooks.
  • Thai and citrus basils are important ingredients in Asian food. Purple basils are a gorgeous garnish. Several basil varieties are great in micromix, harvested at the two-leaf stage; we recommend Italian Large Leaf, Cinnamon, Thai Magic, Dark Opal, and Red Rubin.
  • Chervil is an important component of fines herbes, the French combination of delicate herbs used to flavor many Mediterranean dishes. The other ingredients in fines herbes are parsley, chives, and tarragon.
  • Cutting celery has the flavor of celery but is much easier to grow. Both leaves and stalks can be used in place of celery. If you want to convince chefs to buy your cutting celery, direct them to the Environmental Working Group's list of The Dirty Dozen, conventional produce most often contaminated by pesticides. Conventional celery is at the top of the list.
  • Lovage leaves also can be used as a celery replacement.
  • Dill is new again, thanks to increasing interest in pickle making.
  • Lavender is showing up in all kinds of recipes, from roast chicken to shortbread cookies.
  • Mints are popular in many cuisines, and trendy in cocktails.
  • Salad burnet tastes like cucumber and can be used as a salad ingredient or chopped for cooking. Leaves have to be harvested young, as they tend toward bitterness when mature.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March Product Spotlight: Flowers and Herbs

Magic Fountains Mix delphinium

magic fountains
Magic Fountain Mix, a dwarf Pacific type, is perennial in Zones 3-7. Flowers have white or dark bees on cherry, lilac, lavender, dark blue, sky blue, and white. Great for windy areas.

Camelot Mix digitalis (foxglove)

Camelot Mix
Camelot Mix blooms the first year from seed. This combination of colors includes cream, lavender, rose, and white. Center spikes are large and full, and side shoots fill out the plant. Perennial in Zones 5-9.

Single Mix hollyhock

These elegant 3-4" flowers come in shades of creamy white to yellow and pink to dark maroon. This biennial is hardy in Zones 3-10.


Coneflowers are one of the most useful groups of flowers. Their roots have strong medicinal properties, and their flowers are beautiful both fresh and dried. We have five species of Echinacea for every purpose. Plant a patch this spring and enjoy the benefits for many years to come.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Product Spotlight: Grapes


Plant now for the future. Increase your food independence by starting your own vineyard. Johnny's has high-quality plants of the most popular cold-hardy varieties.

Marechal Foch wine grape

Marechal Foch wine grape
A vigorous, early ripening wine grape with good winter hardiness, Marechal Foch is widely grown in Canada, the Northeast, and the Upper Midwest. It is also found in some vineyards in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Wine made from this French-American hybrid is often compared to Burgundy wines, because of its deep purple color and berry flavor. The grapes are very small, which makes them attractive to birds, so netting is recommended.

Brianna grape

Brianna grape
A very cold-hardy hybrid grape, Brianna is used both as a seeded table grape and for juice and white wine. It is becoming very popular in the Upper Midwest. Grapes are medium-large and round, thick-skinned and gold when fully ripe. Clusters are medium. Wine from Brianna grapes is described as having an aroma of pineapple.

Seedless table grape collection

Seedless Grape collection
Get started in grape growing with this collection of flavorful, seedless varieties. You'll get one vine each of Concord for blue, Himrod for white, and Vanessa for red. This is a great way to start researching the varieties that will grow and taste best for you.

Pests and diseases: Damping-off


As spring gets closer and closer, many of us are feeling that urge to get our hands in the dirt - especially after long winter months of drooling over seed catalogs and just dreaming of what our gardens will become in the nearing growing season. Perhaps you've gotten a packet or two of some longer season flowers that you just couldn't bear to wait any longer to plant. After a few long days you've noticed some seeds have germinated and are doing well, a beloved sight of fresh green growth. Others, though, after germinating are starting to pinch and drop at the stem an inch or so above the soil line. A couple more days pass and there are many empty spots in the seedling tray, where it appears many seeds did not germinate. Upon closer inspection, you find they did indeed germinate. Many died before even popping green shoots toward a lovingly placed grow light. It's then that you know your precious seeds and seedlings have dampened off.

Life Cycle/Symptoms:
Damping-off, a disease primarily caused by fungi, affects germinating seeds and seedlings.  Pythium, Phytophthora, Rhizoctonia and Alternaria are all fungi that commonly cause damping-off. Hundreds, even thousands of seedlings can become colonized by damping-off fungi, resulting in large losses. Emerging shoots of germinating seeds will have a water-soaked appearance or look visibly decayed, while seedlings will develop a shriveled, darkened pinched appearance at the soil line to an inch above the soil line. Tops of these seedlings may appear healthy, but over night infected plants topple over. Roots may or may not be rotted. Often, the fungi that cause damping-off can be easier noticed in beds or flats, as it will travel out in a rough circular pattern. Plug trays inhibit this circular growth pattern. Seedlings grown indoors in greenhouse settings in containers are often more susceptible to damping-off than those in the field.

Plants Affected:
All plants

Controls: The best method of controlling damping-off is to have firmly established cultural control practices in place. This means growing seedlings in well-drained soil with plenty of light. Air circulation is another factor. If you're at home and don't have the luxury of a greenhouse with circulation fans, use a small oscillating fan pointed at seedlings. This will help the soil to dry out faster, and keep leaves and stems dry. Avoid overhead watering. Instead of a watering can, place plug cells in a shallow tray of fresh water and then remove the tray when the top of the soil medium is moist. Using a sterile potting media can reduce the risk of bringing damping-off contaminated media into your home or greenhouse. Unwashed hands, gloves, clothing and footwear can also provide means of the various fungi to enter the greenhouse or home.

It is also very important to keep trays and hose ends up off the floor were fungi can collect in loose debris or stagnant puddles. A drench can also be done on the potting medium with an approved fungicide like Champ® WG. This copper hydroxide-based fungicide is approved for a broad-spectrum of disease/fungi control. As always, follow label instructions carefully and always wear the proper personal protective equipment.

Resources: "The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control" Edited by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis, and Deborah L. Martin
UMass at Amherst Cooperative Extension

Article by Sonya Reynolds, Greenhouse Coordinator, Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Johnny's events calendar - March 2011

March Product Spotlight: Vegetables

New! Five Star Grape tomato

Five Star Grape Tomato
It's time to start your tomato seedlings. A new variety you won't want to miss is Five Star Grape tomato. It was bred by Johnny's, and we think it is our best-tasting grape tomato. It has a sweet flavor and firm, meaty texture with few seeds and little juice. The bright red fruits are 15-20 gm and crack resistant. Healthy, indeterminate plants are high yielding.

New! Cheyenne pepper

Cheyenne pepper
With the perfect balance of heat and sweetness, Cheyenne pepper is sure to win fans at your market. It is a beautiful cayenne pepper with slightly wrinkled, 8-9" fruits with moderately thick walls. Plants are medium sized and high yielding. The moderate heat makes Cheyenne an excellent pepper to use in salsas. Try selling "salsa combo packs" of Cheyenne and tomato plants in spring, and cross-market the vegetables in summer by providing salsa recipes.

New! Corvair OG spinach

Corvair spinach
A great choice for spring planting, Corvair is a new organic, smooth-leaf spinach. It is very slow to bolt, so will hold well as the weather warms. The oval leaves are dark green, the plants upright and uniform.